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Rosalind Brackenbury; Pico Iyer; Julie Sal... Education. (2013) 2013 Key West Literary Seminar Panel, 'How Far Can the Facts Take Us?' New.




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Charlie Parker 3, Oliver Wendell Holmes 3, Henry James 3, Us 2, Johnny Hodges 2, John F. Kennedy 2, Robert Kennedy 2, Pico Iyer 2, Colm Toibin 2, Whitman 1, The Inuit 1, Virginia 1, Angony 1, Fiction 1, Sas 1, Morgan Fuller 1, Scoundrel 1, Vincennes 1, Nec 1, United States 1,
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  CSPAN    Book TV    Rosalind Brackenbury; Pico Iyer; Julie Sal...  Education.   
   (2013) 2013 Key West Literary Seminar Panel, 'How Far Can...  

    January 19, 2013
    12:40 - 1:25pm EST  

including saying at one time it is always a mistake to argue with a woman. they always break down and cry. somehow she was not a woman. there were times she put herself very far and other times she was always ready, any pressure on to move into shadows and disappear and involved in every type of self suppression and of course she kept secrets. she was very good at that. never told anyone she had a torrid affair with wilford scarlet blount. he put in his diaries which were opened in the 1940s and at the age of 60, marvelously having tired of john quinn of new york and all the letters, she burned his letters immediately, he kept her and when he died, in the public library, very close to the letters edith wharton wrote
in her 40s, one of the most powerful people at that time in the world's, love letters' all responding to be punished by morgan fuller 10 and asking please burn them because she kept them too. i think there's a very big difference if you write a biography of a woman born before the 20th century and the best example of that is alice james and jean strauss's biography, attempting to piece together a life where we have the clues from court, her brother william and her brother henry and from her letters and diaries, trying to work out 15 or 16, james got into bed basically and suffered and died in her 40s and did not do the work her brothers received, seeming to have the
biting wit that both laughed to some extent, a bit of prose style in either of them and a sharper mind, the only girl in the family of five sitting at a dinner table, listening to them, one of them to a stirring age which her mother made clear to her it is your job to start selling and start preparing yourself for marriage, to be a mother, to the bostonian matron. whatever happened to her imagination did not match what was expected of her. when you are writing a biography about a woman you are writing about areas to do with oppression, self suppression and also be very careful if the character in the world into the shining world in one piece, be very careful not to just be sympathetic about the idea that that takes the enormous will, that takes an enormous amount of
force within the self which and sometimes look like a sort of brutality or shrillness or duplicity and be careful to read that in its context and quite a bit of time. [applause] >> i am glad you are applauding and we are all applauding. you take my breath away. where did that speech come from? >> i just thought of it. thank you. thank you. >> a three hour intermission. >> can i say something? >> please. >> the two questions are connected. in other words the one about why it is difficult to write a difficult agenda goes to your
question about why biographer's develop passionate revulsion from their subjects because it is hard enough when you are writing any biography of spending years and years knowing the intimate secrets of somebody else is difficult enough that it is a friend, somebody of the same sex with whom you don't have an emotional relationship. if it is a quasi love for you end up in divorce courts. this becomes more charge. the relationship between biographer and biography which we haven't gotten into yet is so intense that is why biographer's embark on of project loving their subject and proceed out of it never wanting to hear about them again. >> i was just going to say to deposit that off, there's another fundamental distinction between all writers who have
spoken, journalistic and literary biographers who are apprenticeing themselves and writing about and in relationship, and walt whitman, this is not just getting the facts straight or getting the story coherent. it is a much deeper kind of commitment but even there, there are rises this whole mystery of influence, with or without anxiety or at angony. your turn. >> obviously i think anybody who's starts to do a biography of somebody, you learn about their inner self and outer self
and if you think of yourself as a person, an interesting horrible experience a few weeks ago of having found a bag of diaries i wrote in the 80s and when i was in my 30s, it was horrifying because as i read through these, if anybody ever found them they would think i was the most depressed semi suicidal terrible person that ever existed. i found it so disgusting that i hated myself. i don't think that was the person -- i was a nice person from the midwest and in thought i was this raging beast. that is what i was writing down. as a biographer you are looking through all of these letters and scraps of paper, especially as a historical figure you don't really have except other lenders and others got to see, time to create this idea of a person
from all of this, when you're doing a literary biography you have public writing of that person as well so you are trying to piece together to this person was from all these different things and you either identify with some aspect of them and your identification becomes part of the process so it is a weird and complicated matter because you are dealing with the person's perception of themselves so you become a mini psychologist without a degree and if it becomes a fascinating process and i am not sure what to make of it but politics would be male or female, placing a huge role with one aspect of that person's struggle becoming a person that you identify with. >> if you want to sort of track
phyllis rose's mind, what she was thinking about, i sensed it. in the conversation of the three guys talking about their three guys, the fundamental question was enough already. what is going on in the sandbox with the boys? do you read anything like it? >> i can't really channel phyllis but she's a lot of good things but i am aware of the philosophy of the audience as female, it still happens that men talk a lot more. i don't feel the way i used to about the feminist issues that came up when you had to be on your guard all the time.
[laughter] >> really interesting. i don't feel that way anymore. i don't care what gender anyone is at this stage of life. i am not conscious about it. but sideways take i want to take on this, not only are a lot of people here women but also novelists. we've learned a lot about biography. if i could take a little detour for moment. i am mulling this over, maybe we transcended this question in the wonderful appreciation of fiction and biography. there is the difference between a novel and a biography. i would love to know -- pico iyer has written fiction. it is a different take like when you are writing a poem. you know you are writing a poem. maybe one can read fiction and biography in the same way,
certainly there are overlaps we have been exploring but there's a different intent when you start to write a novel in your relationship to the real person in the novel is different from if you were writing a biography. i don't think this is anything to do with being a man or woman. is a writer's problem. i am interested in what other people who write novels if they have anything to say about that. >> colm toibin, i think she wants you to talk forever now. >> there is a letter from henry james to oliver wendell holmes, oliver wendell holmes wants to join henry james in north conway. james writes back to say it is great except we stretched a bed for you where there isn't one so you simply have to share a bed with me with only one bed at the beginning and then he said i don't mind if you don't mind.
as the woman said when the puppy dogs licked her face. if i am a biographer and i come to that, there is very little i can do. there was perhaps -- may be changed by the time oliver wendell holmes went up there with no evidence of what happened after that as regards to the puppy dog. if you are the sort of of biographer who can take sigmund freud and read carefully this remark, very interesting, what an odd thing to say. perhaps they were being playful. maybe it was a joke they had between them. of biography has to be careful with that. don't judge that. i think i know what happened when he arrived, only one bed or perhaps -- if you army and you
are a novelist you realize oh, look what i have now. in away there is that difference. the idea of evidence for a biographer is something you have to be careful with, analyze competently, remain sane, sober, serious, and you are not actually pushing the fact where they might go if you are a novelist, i trust you to pick up the ball will go into puppy dog and see where the puppy dog will take you and if it takes you paragraph by paragraph, that sort of strange night together in bed with lying awake all night with this wonderful soldier beside him in bed, no --
it is too much. that is an example of the difference between -- we need biographer's the same way we need men. i would not be without -- >> can i say something? i was talking about this. that there should be a separate panel in the distinction between riders with irish or british access. no matter what you guys say it always sounds so much more intelligent. always stuck with american accents that sound stupider. >> this may be out of bounds but sheldon nowak made a think about that, it is interesting.
james had been riding it to a girl, we can sleep together or something you would have been different. a knowledge approach, inevitably a mystery, some sort of choice, but then there is light. he immediately suggests as we're calling it now john f. kennedy's relationship with one more in billings --lemoyne billings who made a sort of pass at him on a sheet of toilet paper and kennedy center back, that is not my way. virtually from that day until the end of kennedy's life, he lived in the white house with john f. kennedy and he was gay and had a private life but was put in charge of robert kennedy's children when robert kennedy died. the most intimate of
friendships, without interruption to the pinnacle of american power. may have had nothing to do with sex but certainly not in terms of explicitly sexual relationship. maybe there is a novelist who could come up with that scenario. i never bought the sheldon no c novick picture. >> i love what jay said yesterday that all biography is fiction. i feel the memoir is fiction because we are leased to be trusted when writing about the closest to ourselves or people closest to ourselves and a great memoirs like paul's book which is the novel, john mccain's novel, it is about the difference between truth and fact, fact and truth rather, between the truth which is in the realm of emotion and
intuition and imagination and the facts, in the realm of information. if somebody were writing about my wife, as we have been saying the last couple days, even the diaries julie was talking about, i as somebody living with her try to see the world through her eyes. i have at every moment seen how i looked into her eyes and that is a novelist's market. i have to become her rather than just writing about her. that is why people like you write novels, you can actually in have a person from within and catch some much deeper fundamental aspect. >> i would say as a biographer if you are trying to accomplish both it is a trickier line you can inhabit the character entirely in the novel. if you are trying to write a good biography you have to be able to take the point of view of that character and when you
start thinking about the people in your books, i talked to them as characters. you think of them as characters but then you have to step back again, it is so weird thing of saying they are not fictional characters so it becomes a very complicated dance where the truth is once you start, if you write your biography as a narrative you are writing a lot of fiction because automatically as soon as you put it inside the framework of a book you are cheating because life is not unfolding and there's a lot of boring stuff. it is an interesting question. >> one quick sentence. it speaks also to the title, writers on writers already rapid:00 that day and had cheese
for breakfast and a biographer is excited. what scoundrel. how could he bear to switch sides? that is us. that is why they're interested. he is a writer and is transforming the experience into a narrative to show that. >> writers right about writers do what we missing the weekend hear a version of these among composers? even hockey players or alto saxophone players? no child with a great gift learns to play the alto saxophone without having to confront charlie parker. is like having to confront henry james at some point, this guy on the mountaintop and or louis armstrong -- they rewrote the language of that instrument and you have to deal with it.
or if you are a hockey player's body work --bobby orr. we always end top stopped talking about musicians. lester young, duke ellington's band, webster l. the saxophone chair into the 30s and 40s and paul gonzalez in the 50s and he was sitting in ben webster's chair. at the inuit, he was playing in the shadow of that man. i mentioned that to say people don't abbreviate howard bloom to say it is all about you have to kill the father. it is not the infinite love in two but those guys don't ever get to voice as explicitly as the writers do. implicitly it really should be our goal to listen to those musicians for what they are saying to each other about each
other. charlie parker plays with johnny hodges who was the king of the tenor saxophone before him and i hear nothing but this kind of phrase and thank you. .. it's a sunday sunday morning and something true must be said. the influence is absolutely wonderful. it is clearly written by an
academic. it is such a confined world and they are so jealous of each other. and it is a time and a book that someone had out. so clearly for an academic, i think someone in jail, you would feel that the characters would be desperately jealous. this simply isn't the case if you are a novelist or a composer. >> it begins with reverence and it ends with reverence. >> a man. >> things do happen in the middle. where you can measure up to somebody or you can worry about somebody. but all the time that the sounds are coming in towards you. sounds in general tend to be nourishing sounds.
and to believe there is a constant struggle going on within novelist in our world, you are 15 and 16 years old and you've read the poems that are important to you for the rest of your life. you long for more that comes towards you. it is the private and important thing in your life in many ways. it's part of your being. you take that influence is something that is true and it is accepted. like i say, i don't just wonder about it. but i don't agree with that. [applause] thank you. >> can i just say that i would like to comment on that. i agree on this. and i think there is a mistake about the way that the competition is set up and it is
almost treating them like resources and maltreating them generally. because i think the influence that we have on each other is benign. and whether it is contemporary writer or a young writer, we are all in the same business. at some of the things i love about the writing humanity in the united states is that it's extremely supportive. and competition is kept to a minimum. i also think that we need to read and read. and we need to define what we need to be. i can't imagine my life without reading. that is why we are writers. because we want to be able to do for other people what they do for us. so i totally agree that it's not just on the whole. thank you.
>> is there more there, colm? >> i would like to say the acting you are entirely right. i think when charlie parker plays with johnny hodges, there is love there. i think she was a sense of contemporary and when we sat and played music, he is an unbelievably articulate, bright, interesting broad man. and he was almost overcome by the glory of the people. he said i can't believe i played with bud powell. the treasure and the gift of the minute he played with -- it was practically paralyzed by the
joy.the joy. there is a tension and unbelievable privilege under the sun. >> you might as well not pick up the pen. i think you read the people that you love, if you read the great writers, and you are influenced and you do learn from them. and you are not, you know, you try to go as far as you can to learn and to grow into change. you know, i have tried all different genres of writing. biography, journalism, i've just
written a children's book. maybe that is a sign of weakness. but part of it is as a writer you try all these different forms. quite honestly, i am so blown away by a book that i read by somebody that nobody has ever heard of. i think that you read the masters to see the exalted praise, but then you are also trying to find your place within that. so i don't 100% understand that harold bloom argument. at some level you are duking it out. >> i think he would say two things. one is that he uses this model and it's part of his response.
to destroy each other in this way. we blew the vincennes away and etc. and it is a kind of sport, that kind of thing. but secondly, i mean -- such a huge subject. he has so much literature turning in his head and he remembers it all. and he does have a way of seeing it as a kind of web of connected borrowings and inspirations and i don't know. i think the whole anxiety question is overdone. i see it as a kind of connected world in which there is always a historical reference extension.
i think part of the problem is that covers a multitude of sins he goes into his imagination and we, as writers, we talk about a critical essay. we are tearing him apart and so i think as to if then, we have to find a way that at its best to pay homage to the wider screen the time comes and we actually using words. but from an literary end logistical literary point of
view. [laughter] [talking over each other] >> we have a moment for questions from the audience? >> is howard bloom in the room? i wonder if you could address cost diversity and biography and help raise plays into this.
[applause] >> i think that's a great question and something i have been asking myself before. i am used to seeing a variety of people appearing. [laughter] it's a great question. it is a kind of absence feels kind of profound. so i don't know. >> it was just a book written about this. i don't think it's relevant.
i think it's much easier to trust across the gender line. i think about virginia wilks. she was a crossing the racial divide. but the whole point is affecting the human heart. i probably spend most my life reading books. as julie said, they came out of certain backgrounds but not necessarily a certain racial background. >> that's an interesting question.
>> i am struck by what was written throughout this conference. it is music to me to hear you talk. there really is a big difference in what is happening here. >> thank you. [applause] >> i will have to think the panelists for this too. they never repeat, it's always
different. >> thank you all for the entire session. i was a little disconcerting with the comment about competitiveness and anxiety and jealousy is something that is unbecoming, which i agree with. but it seemed to be something that authors wanted to avoid. it doesn't feel good, and i agree with all of that. but i do think that it's very productive, very animalistic, very natural, very essential. i did not necessarily accept the idea that it should exist, doesn't exist, is not a productive thing. i think it can be very useful
and it can be a little too easily dismissed. but i am probably anachronistic and not view. >> yes, i think you have a point. if we just look at this as an example, henry james again -- his relationship with george eliot is very interesting. he is watching every move that she's making. he has a sarcastic sort of view on things. even more intensely, he reviewed
this, a way of creating space for himself. for a novel that he wished to write against the one she had written. i think there are examples. and very good ones. i and the interesting one that is going on now is that we still don't have a black writer who has won the nobel prize, but we do have two white writers for it if you watch the way in which they reply to each other one could say that they want a pure space for the novel. now they are wanting a much more engaged novel. and now between them has, i
think, given both of them an awful lot of energy. so yes, i think it is not entirely true to say what i said. i just thought it was worth saying once. [applause] but i won't say it again. [applause] i think it can be created. you might write a poem in response to another poem. we're just working in a conversation in a way. poets do that quite a lot. you are continuing to collect discussion. i also think that writers spend a lot of time alone and we really like hanging out with each other. we don't want to make too many enemies. [laughter] [applause] time for the last question.
i wonder about the purposes of the biographer not only a choice of how they were going to write about it but who. >> yes, that's a perfect question. i think there are multiple purposes. again, i think that is always defined by the person writing the biography. one is trying to get answers to questions that interest them. and so i think that if somebody writes about henry james committee may be looking at that aspect to try and understand about secrecy and uncovering and
emotions and how that translates into the artistic life. how does one take that material into a creative way if you are somebody looking at the rights of a woman artist. you were saying the daily cost of raising children and being a wife or a lover or any of those things with the creative life -- i think part of what people try to do and biography is is they basically use people that are well known or have written things that compel you. then it is used as a kind of guide to life. then you want to cover good stories and often these people are very interesting and allow you to explore psychological depths that it's just a way taken same qualities of fiction, we have a real person that people are interested in.
who people are interested in. it's an interesting process. but i think there are many different roles for biography. in the end, it's to teach us something about being human. [applause] >> i think it changes as you go on. that is what you always hope for. he walked into a darkened house with a tiny flashlight. nec that you end up somewhere different from what you even imagine. me, biography has always been a conversation with a friend. and so you go through a tempestuous relationship under the course of many years of that person. but it's really about intimacy and trying to get closer to somebody who intuition and affinity has brought you closer. and you realize that this person has answers to certain questions in your life that maybe nobody else has. and answers keep changing. but the more they change, and
help you move on. pico iyer, julie salamon, colm toibin, rosalind brackenbury. i think you all to this panel. >> coming up next, at the key west literary seminar, trent eight talks about his book, "the novelistic essay & the essayistic novel." >> hello, i feel that it is great being here with other writers.
so many writers here are so tall. will ferrell, i don't know. [laughter] i feel really pleased that i usually do. the fact that i managed to get here and sneak in on this kind of biographers thing. without having written a biography. it's one of the great things. today i'm going to move slightly to one side of the biography issue and talk about a related thing. and i hope you have that hand out which i hope exceeded and grabbing your attention. i would like to frame this talk about the essay and the novel and the supposed compatibility or incompatibility between the
two with a few quotations from different people. that is one of the great things about the essay form. he put in quotes to show how clever you are. especially when you narrow it down. i'm actually going to begin by indicating some ways in which the could be expanded. the first of four quotations i would like to review. i think of myself as an essayist, producing essays in novel form or novels in essay form. okay, well that's straightforward enough. so i think it is useful to bear in mind the ease with which this
topic can be exported from literature to cinema. from page to screen. i might as well toss in another quotation. one that said i'd never have made a distinction between my feature film in my documentaries. for me, they are all just films. and for what it's worth, that's exactly how i feel about my fiction and nonfiction. and i realized that this means with a little bit of tweaking, i can get this same lecture again. [laughter] we are going to move onto the next quotation. huxley was another tall writer who described himself, and i love this quote, as some kind of sas, sufficiently ingenious to
get away with writing a very limited kind of fiction. which in the unlikely event of anyone being remotely interested is also pretty much how i see myself. the next observation is by martyn amos. he claims that gore vidal is too clever to be an effective novelist. essays are what he's got. you can't be too clever for them. it's not unusual to hear people say that they actually value a mrs. journalism and essays are more than his fiction. finally, we have cynthia owes it receives the two forms. true essayists rarely writ